The democrats are poised to fall into a dreadful trap|Stephen Vines

Published (HKT): 2020.09.14 10:17

The pan-democrats in Legco appear to be walking slowly towards a well laid trap. It is not too late to avoid falling in.

The trap, set on orders from the Central Government, comes as a result of extending the life of the current Legislative Council without a new election. The aim was to provoke sitting legislators to walk away and leave the chamber entirely in the hands of the pro-China camp so that all manner of new laws and regulations could be introduced with minimal scrutiny or opposition.

The blueprint for a rubber stamp Legco was drawn up before the handover when a Provisional Legislature was installed in Shenzhen and then moved to Hong Kong after July 1, 1997. Its main task was to scrap all the political reforms introduced by Chris Patten, the last governor. Of course the sycophants did what they were told to do and endorsed whatever was put before them.

What is different between then and now is that before the handover the provisional council ran in parallel to the real Legco and after the handover took over from the outgoing council. The members of the provisional body were selected by what was then a merely 400-strong Election Committee, another body stacked with quislings. The current Legco has the tenuous credibility of having been elected, albeit not for an extended term. This means that aside from the members who were purged by virtue of disqualification, the current Legco still contains a core body of democrats.

It is now being suggested that they should walk away and cease representing the people who elected them because the Provisional Legco Version 2.0 is in breach of the Basic Law and bereft of election.

The flagrant overriding of the Basic Law cannot be denied, nor can the democratic credentials of the provisional legislature go unquestioned.

However anyone looking for real democracy in Legco would have to explain why they were prepared to tolerate a body where only half the members are directly elected, where even the geographic constituencies are riddled with gerrymandering to give seats to members who did not win but secured their mandate by virtue of the deeply flawed transferable vote system and where legislators are largely powerless.

In other words the system has long been rigged and has dubious democratic credentials. Nevertheless democrats have enthusiastically participated in Legco elections despite the faults of the system. They did so because running for election has a number of important tactical advantages in mobilizing support, calling the government to account and creating a leadership cadre for the movement.

Just because the democratic deficit has increased there is no reason to walk away. Indeed it is nothing short of self-indulgence to do so at a time when the defenders of liberty have to devise new and more creative ways of defying the white terror sweeping through Hong Kong.

Part of the defence of liberty involves the democracy camp clinging onto positions it already holds – make no mistake there will be plenty of other attempts to dislodge them.

Most importantly, elected democrats have a responsibility to serve the people who elected them. This is no small matter and the electorate will take note of those who abandon them.

The anti-democrats relish the prospect of an opposition-free Legco and were relying on an unthinking reflex response so that they could provoke the democrats into leaving on their accord. The mystery is why so many people with good intentions are prepared to gullibly help them.

The introduction of the National Security Law and a flurry of crackdowns on liberty require a nuanced and smart response. Some people may imagine that the old ways of protest can still prevail and that the honorable way of resisting is to maintain utmost defiance at all times. This is not only hugely dangerous but largely self-defeating.

It is akin to a man facing an enemy with a gun, who then turns the gun on himself and threatens to pull the trigger. This is madness.

(Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of ‘Eastern Express’ and founding publisher of ‘Spike’. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse"

Vines' latest book Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published early next year by Hurst Publishing. He is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium, Market Panic and Food Gurus.)

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